Dir. Timur Bekmambetov. US. 2008. 110 mins.
Maximum violence and minimum plot are the formula for Wanted, a flashy comic book adaptation that marks the US debut of Night Watch director Timur Bekmambetov. It also marksthe transformation of British actor James McAvoy into something resembling a Hollywood action hero. The formula may please the core fanboy audience, and the presence of Angelina Jolie should broaden the appeal enough to produce at least mid-level box office and good video returns. With its R-rating and nihilistic feel, this amped-up actioner is travelling more along the lines of Sin City or The Matrix, though, as opposed to the summer's more mainstream comic book-based hits.
This Spyglass production goes wide in North America on June 27 through worldwide distributor Universal as counterprogramming to Disney/Pixar's animated Wall-E. Universal will need to work fast to exploit the release slot and establish it before launching the similarly-targeted Hellboy II two weeks later.
Several major international markets get the film on the same weekend as the US and other territories have launches set through July and August. The action emphasis could pay off particularly well internationally, and local interest in McAvoy and Bekmambetov should produce spikes in their home territories. Jolie's exposure at Cannes - and an imminent happy development in her private life - will provide an extra publicity boost.
The script by Chris Morgan (Cellular) and the team of Michael Brandt and Derek Haas (2 Fast 2 Furious) is based - apparently very loosely -- on a 2003-4 comic book series by Mark Millar and J G Jones.
McAvoy's Wesley is a downtrodden office worker who learns, after being kidnapped by Jolie's sultry Fox, that he was born to be part of the Fraternity, an ancient league of assassins who use their heightened skills - bullet-bending is a speciality - to carry out the orders of fate. 'Kill without question to forge stability out of chaos,' is the ethos.
After a prologue relying on heavy-handed humour, the film spends the best part of an hour on Wesley's brutal training under the supervision of Fox, Fraternity leader Sloan (Morgan Freeman in familiar eminence grise mode) and weapons expert The Gunsmith (rapper/actor Common, from American Gangster).
The plot only starts to unfold later, as Wesley encounters rogue Fraternity member Cross (German star Thomas Kretschmann, from Downfall) and the mysterious Pekwarsky (Terence Stamp) and learns about his real relationship with the organisation. The final scenes have the feel of a sequel set-up, though that may be optimistic thinking.
Russian-born Bekmambetov puts his stamp on the project from the get-go, mixing sardonic humour with frenetic, bloody action and Matrix-style effects, including an impressively-realised scene following a long-range assassin's bullet back from victim's head to gun.
Working with a budget many times bigger than those of his Russian horror hits Night Watch and Day Watch, Bekmambetov also stages action set-pieces including an effects-enhanced train wreck set in one of the film's eye-catching Eastern European locations.
McAvoy (brought to mainstream US notice by last year's Atonement and The Last King Of Scotland) always looks more like Wesley-the-office-drone than Wesley-the-super-killer, except for in the one shirtless scene that reveals his newly-buff torso. But he makes the character's transformation fairly believable and he adds a touch of humanity to the story.
Jolie dominates the film's marketing artwork but gets considerably less screen time than McAvoy.
Michael Brandt & Derek Haas